Date laid: 24 November 2020
Parliamentary procedure: negative
This instrument sets out how travellers arriving in England from a non-exempt country, territory or region can shorten the requirement to self-isolate for 14 days if they take a private COVID-19 test five days after their arrival and receive a negative result (“Test to Release”). Given that these travellers all come from places where the infection rate is too high to allow free movement after their arrival, we have substantial concerns about whether this approach, which allows them to break quarantine after five days in order to take a test, is justifiable. We believe that the House will wish to press the Minister for a much fuller explanation, including a clear statement of the evidence relied upon in support of this policy change.
This instrument is drawn to the special attention of the House on the ground that the explanatory material laid in support provides insufficient information to gain a clear understanding about the instrument’s policy objective and intended implementation.
1.This instrument has been laid by the Department for Transport (DfT), with an Explanatory Memorandum (EM). It sets out how travellers arriving in England from a non-exempt country, territory or region can shorten the requirement, under the International Travel Regulations, to self-isolate for 14 days if they take a private COVID-19 test five days after their arrival and receive a negative result (“Test to Release”).
2.The instrument amends regulation 4 of the International Travel Regulations to allow travellers to leave their place of self-isolation to take a test. It also inserts new Schedule 2A which sets out the requirements to be met by any privately paid for test taken for these purposes, and amends regulation 9 to enable the disclosure and use of information relating to the tests for the purposes of enforcement.
3.We had concerns over how this measure could be enforced and, as a result, asked DfT a number of questions (published in full at Appendix 1). DfT responded:
“Test to Release will be enforced through a system of encouraging compliance in the first instance, followed by enforcement activity where needed.
Compliance checks are carried out by Public Health England’s Isolation Assurance Service (IAS) who contact randomly sampled international arrivals to ensure that they are self-isolating. Details of those found not to be isolating will be passed to the Home Office, who in turn pass relevant details on to the police for targeted follow-up enforcement activity.”
4.This response indicates some degree of co-ordination between different agencies. We were surprised, therefore, to be told that the information from the Passenger Locator Form stating that a traveller plans to take the test after five days is not passed to Test and Trace for follow up. We note that the private test provider is required to report results with the contact details of the traveller to Public Health England (PHE), which will be passed to Test and Trace, but—of course—that requirement only applies when tests are taken. Travellers who change their minds about the test should complete the full 14 day self-isolation period but we question how likely they are to do that, especially over the Christmas period.
5.We were also told that if, for example, the Q code at a pub identifies a traveller as out and about on day four, there is no link between the NHS App and the Passenger Locator Form database to alert the authorities that he or she has been out of the country and should be self-isolating.
6.The House may wish to ask the Minister whether there could have been greater co-ordination between these different systems, and for an assurance that opportunities for greater effectiveness have not been lost.
7.With regard to enforcement, the Department referred to a mix of encouraging compliance followed by enforcement activity, including penalties:
“If individuals provide incorrect or misleading information, including in relation to opting in to “Test to Release”, on the Passenger Locator Form they are subject to a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) of £100.
Only a negative test from a private provider which meets the minimum standards will enable a traveller to cease self-isolating early—if they decide not to take the test and do not self-isolate, the fixed penalty notice payable for a first offence is £1,000, and increases to £2,000, £4,000 and then £10,000 for subsequent offences.”
8.We asked DfT how many Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) have been issued for breach of self-isolation, and the number of passengers in scope. We were told that since 8 June, when the requirement to self-isolate was introduced, there have been approximately nine million arrivals by air to the UK. (Because of the frequency of changes to the exemption list over that period the Department was not able to distinguish between passengers coming from “safe” countries and those which required subsequent self-isolation.)
9.DfT reported to us that up to 16 November, 223 FPNs have been issued by police forces in England to those failing to self-isolate after arriving from a country not on the Travel Corridor list.
10.They cited the source for this information as a police press release which gave the following additional information:
“Up to 24 November under the International Travel Regulations:
11.In summary: of an unspecified number, but likely to be in the millions, of travellers who have come to England from non-exempt countries, the IAS follow up a random sample (number also unspecified). Of that IAS sample an unknown proportion will have been found to be compliant but 9127 cases were passed on for investigation by the police — a miniscule percentage of the total. Of the cases investigated, 639 (7%) were identified as having definitely been in breach of a requirement to self-isolate and 1448 (16%) were untraced, so, of those cases investigated, 23% had failed to comply with the self-isolation requirements. The press release footnotes also refer to a separate enforcement process via Border Force, which blurs the picture further.
12.Given these figures, the House may wish to press the Minister for further information about the Department’s evaluation of the effectiveness of the International Travel Regulations and about the evidential basis on which it was decided to introduce these Regulations to amend them.
13.The test after five days will identify those who may not be aware that they have the infection. These Regulations, therefore, allow travellers who may be infected to break quarantine in order to take a test at that point. Given that these travellers will have come from places where the infection rate is too high to allow free movement after their arrival, we have substantial concerns about whether this approach is justifiable. Neither the EM nor the supplementary material assists in allaying those concerns.
14.The House may wish to ask the Minister for the evidence underpinning the assertion (in paragraph 12.1 of the EM) that “the protective effect of testing to release international arrivals after 5 days of self-isolation is only marginally less effective than 14 days of self-isolation”, and for further information about the Department’s level of confidence that travellers will be fully compliant with the new Regulations (particularly in the light of the supplementary information we have received from the Department, published at Appendix 1.)
1 Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) Regulations 2020 ).
2 The Department was unable to disaggregate these figures for England only, nor to provide figures for ferry or Eurostar arrivals. See details in Appendix 1, Q 7.
3 National Police Chief’s Council, Press Release: More Fixed Penalty Notices issued since national Coronavirus restrictions were reintroduced, with crime 9 per cent lower than last year on 30 November 2020: [accessed 9 December 2020].